December Metro Service Council meetings preview

Metro Service Council agendas are set for December, including one special meeting in a different location. Service Council meetings kick off today (Wednesday, December 4), in the San Fernando Valley at the Marvin BraudeCenter in Van Nuys.

The San Gabriel Valley Service Council will be conducting their December meeting at an alternate location – The Alhambra, located at 1000 South Freemont (northeast corner of Freemont and W Mission Rd) in Building A2, on the lower floor, room 2051. This meeting will include a special workshop to discuss options to improve service on Metro Line 485, which serves the communities of Alhambra, South Pasadena, Pasadena and Altadena. The Council is hoping the public will participate and share their ideas about improving service on the line. The meeting starts at5 pm, on Monday, December 9. Next month the San Gabriel Valley Service Council will return to their regular meeting location in El Monte.

All of the other Metro Service Councils will conduct their meetings on their regular schedules, as indicated below. Please note that some of the presentations listed below are tentative at the time of this posting. All meetings will include a report from Metro Service Council Director Jon Hillmer, who will provide statistics on October ridership, performance and other measures of Metro service. Other agenda items at Council meetings include:

San Fernando Valley (6:30 pm, Wednesday, 12/4)  – Presentation on proposed June 2014 service changes and approval of public hearing date, time and location; Discussion on the approval of rescheduling or cancellation of the Council’s January meeting (which is scheduled for January 1); Presentation on the New Bus Purchases Distribution Plan; Update on the Lassen Bridge closure.

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Here’s a video from SoCal’s first pop-up street design event

A few months ago, Santa Monica held a pop-up street improvement event to show how Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo) can be improved. The event was very successful, with numerous participants stopping by and providing feedback.

Check out the above video to see the temporary installations featured at the event, including traffic calming devices, curb extensions, enhanced landscaping, places for neighbors to gather and wayfinding signage.

Metro Board to consider motions involving restrooms, parking and paying fares at transit stations

Motions involving bathrooms at transit stations (or lack thereof), parking at transit stations (or lack thereof) and fares on the Orange Line (or lack of people actually paying for them) have all found their way onto the agenda for the Metro Board of Directors meeting this Thursday.

In particular, the bathroom and parking issues are brought up on a regular basis by readers here and, quite frankly, are also core service issues that most large transit agencies grapple with at some time or another.

Let me be blunt. None of these issues are going to be solved at this Board meeting. As you will see below, each motions call for more study and/or reports from Metro staff. That said, motions are sometimes the beginning of a process.

Obviously the motion is keyed to some specific issues that have arisen near the Orange Line’s Pierce College station. But bathrooms and transit stations have a long, tangled history that is still, of course, being written.

Bathrooms at transit stations are in many cities a thing of the past, mostly for reasons involving maintenance and safety, although some BART and New York Subway stations have restrooms. Here’s an excerpt from a 2010 amNewYork story on bathrooms in the subway system:

Of the open bathrooms, a third were frightening caverns of garbage, urine, standing water or unseemly smells. Odors from the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. station on the N caused an amNewYork reporter to feel faint during a recent visit.

“They’re pretty disgusting. People are always cleaning themselves in there and doing other stuff,” said Kelvin Pau, 27, a rider using the 168 St. A station, which reeked.

Don’t expect to find toilet paper or soap, as few of the bathrooms had either. And while graffiti has largely been eliminated from subway stations, it lives on in the bathrooms, as many of the walls and stalls were covered in tags.

Keeping the bathrooms tidy and open is a challenge because they are constantly being vandalized or attract “criminal activity,” Seaton said.

Metro has three transit stations with restrooms: Union Station, El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway. The vast majority do not.

Restrooms in transit stations is a subject that has been written about a lot. Here’s a good article about the issue from the Atlantic Cities blog. It will be interesting to see how Metro staff responds to this one, as building more restrooms and then maintaining and patrolling them would be a major undertaking.

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Congresswoman Karen Bass introduces local hire legislation — bill is consistent with America Fast Forward legislation

This is an important issue because local transit agencies are currently prohibited from creating local hiring programs when using federal funds for projects. The rationale has been that all Americans should have access to jobs created with national funding, but the policy fails to take into account that most of the funding for most projects these days is raised locally.

Here is the update from Metro’s government relations team:

Earlier today, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-37) moved to introduce legislation that will allow transportation agencies “to prioritize hiring local residents for highway and transit projects.”

According to a press release issued by the Congresswoman’s office, the legislation, entitled the “Local Hire Act” will make it easier to “generate jobs in the very counties and states where their transportation projects are located, while preserving competition and cost effectiveness.”

In September of 2011 our Board voted to add an additional component to our America Fast Forward initiative to permit transportation agencies to establish local hiring programs in proportion to the local share of a given project(s) total cost. Currently, federal procurement regulations do not permit agencies, like Metro, to require bidders to establish local hiring or purchasing programs or to take such programs and local hiring directly into account in the bid evaluation process.

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Metro Board Committee discusses need for fare restructuring

The issue of fare restructuring — and problems with Metro’s current fare structure — were discussed today by the Metro Board of Directors’ Finance, Budget & Audit Committee. Metro staff are currently finalizing fare restructuring options that will likely be released to the public in early 2014.

Among options likely to be looked at are offering unlimited rides on a single fare for a certain time period (for example, an hour or 90 minutes), different fares for peak and off-peak hours and a simplified zone structure and/or offering flat fares for zoned buses.

Since the passage in May of the 2013-14 budget, Metro CEO Art Leahy has been telling the public and Board members alike that staff would be proposing a fare restructuring as part of next year’s budget. The big issue: Metro is seeking to avoid a budget deficit beginning in fiscal year 2017.

On Wednesday, Leahy also outlined other reasons why fare restructuring is important. In particular, Leahy said that the bus and rail route structure was designed to encourage transfers to help people reach a myriad of destinations around Los Angeles County. The average rider, in fact, has to transfer at least once to reach their destination.

On the other hand, Leahy said, the agency has a fare structure that discourages transferring by charging the full fare per transfer. As a result, riders take longer routes to avoid transfers — and that, in turn, doesn’t promote efficient use of the system, driving up operating costs and requiring riders to spend more time on transit than they should.

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Metro staff report looks at issues involving potential ballot measure to accelerate and fund transportation projects

First, the caveat: The Metro Board has not — emphasis on the HAS NOT part — decided to take a ballot measure to Los Angeles County voters.

That said, in recent months, both the Board as a whole and individual members have said they want to explore the idea of taking a ballot measure to voters in 2014 or 2016. Furthermore, the Board has instructed Metro to ask local cities what kind of transportation projects that may want funded in such a measure.

As the above Metro staff report explains, there are still many decisions to be made.

Perhaps the most significant: should a ballot measure seek an extension of Measure R to accelerate projects? Or should it perhaps be a new sales tax to provide more money for some Measure R projects and perhaps pay for some new ones?

Some quick background. The Measure R half-cent sales tax increase was approved by 68 percent of county voters in Nov. 2008. The Measure R expenditure plan spread money around to many transit and road projects across the county.

In some cases, Measure R provides most of the money needed to build a project — a good example is the second phase of the Expo Line. In other cases, Measure R only provides partial funding and not enough money for more expensive project alternatives and segments.

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Self-driving cars versus transit: will they compete? Take our poll

Although I’m normally allergic to panel discussions, I actually attended one last month at the Mobility 21 conference on self-driving cars that rose to the level of mighty interesting.

The gist of the conversation: virtually ever major car company is pursuing self-driving cars, the technology is sound, the cars could reduce accidents (in other words, not like human drivers are all that safe) and lawmakers better start getting super serious as to how to regulate them as a lot of them could be on the road within a decade.

And this–the really interesting part: the big marketing push and the big source of demand will likely come from those who can’t or don’t want to drive (seniors, teens, disabled, etc.) but need the mobility a self-driving car could supply. In fact, one of the panelists even proposed that self-driving cars could save government money by negating the need to supply transit in areas where transit is inefficient.

This is already how Google is framing the self-driving car issue:

Not discussed by the panel is another issue I find interesting: if there is a proliferation of self-driving cars, what does that do to transit?

On the one hand, roads will continue to have only a finite amount of space. Yes, perhaps self-driving cars may squeeze some extra capacity from roads by driving more efficiently — but you can only pack so many cars in so much space, presumably.

On the other hand, cars often enjoy the door-to-door convenience factor not afforded by transit. At present, one of the major draws to transit is that it’s a chance for people to relax and/or get some work done.

What happens if you can get that work done in your own car that is driving itself to work? Would sitting in traffic be more tolerable if you didn’t actually have to be the one tapping the brakes and accelerator? Or would traffic still make you go bonkety-bonkers?

Take the poll and comment please.

Planning underway for Monrovia’s Station Square at new Gold Line stop

With the Gold Line Foothill Extension project nearly 50 percent complete, it’s a good time to start pondering some of the development that will take place along the 11.5-mile route between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border.

Thus, the above report from the city of Monrovia on planning efforts for the “Station Square” area around the future Gold Line station there. The Gold Line platform, in fact, will be just a few feet west of the old Santa Fe depot that served Monrovia for many decades, although the building is now in need of some serious rehab work.

The Monrovia station is interesting, I think, because it’s a challenging site. The Gold Line is being built along the old Santa Fe alignment through the northern San Gabriel Valley. While the tracks pass through downtown Arcadia and Azusa, in Monrovia it’s a different story: the city’s very well-tended downtown is north of the 210 freeway while the Gold Line tracks and station are about a mile away on the south side of the 210.

As a result, Monrovia officials are trying to upgrade the land adjacent to the station — there are some vacant lots — and better connect the area to the rest of town through improved sidewalks and bike lanes. It makes sense.

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President Obama plugs America Fast Forward-type bond program

Interesting legislative update from Metro CEO Art Leahy, on a nice shout-out from President Obama on the proposed America Fast Forward bond program:

President Obama Backs America Fast Forward Bonds in Address at Port of New Orleans

Earlier today, at an event held at the port of New Orleans, President Barack Obama outlined his plan to immediately invest $50 billion in America’s infrastructure through his “Fix it First” initiative.

The initiative, as outlined in a White House fact sheet, includes a modified version of our America Fast Forward Transportation Bond program. Specifically, the White House fact sheet shares that the “new America Fast Forward bonds program would build upon and expand a successful program created in the Recovery Act to attract private capital for infrastructure investments.”

The main difference between our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond program and the bond program being advanced by the President relates to the level of federal subsidy.

Our agency’s bond initiative envisions the federal government subsidizing nearly all interest costs associated with America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds, while the President’s plan includes a more modest rate of subsidy.

I look forward to continuing our work with White House officials, seniors officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Members of Congress and their staff to advance our Board-approved policy of seeking to have America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds enacted into federal law.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Congress gets on board with the bond program. They previously incorporated an expanded TIFIA loan program — also proposed by America Fast Forward — as part of the last multi-year transportation bill. TIFIA provides federally-backed low-interest loans.

The bond program is equally important as it could deliver the dollars Metro and other transportation agencies need to build big, pricey projects. And Metro has more than a few of those it is trying to build.

Funding begins to flow again from feds after dispute over California’s pension reform

A trio of legislative updates are below from Metro CEO Art Leahy. The first one is perhaps the most interesting as it involves an issue we wrote about over the summer: a delay in receiving federal dollars because of the U.S. Labor Department’s concerns of California’s pension reform.

The updates:

U.S. Department of Labor Moves to Certify Over $260 Million in Metro Grants

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) moved to certify eight federal grants, valued at over $260 million, that were designated for our agency earlier this year. The grants were not certified by the DOL earlier this year because of the PEPRA/13C issue, which effectively froze our agency’s receipt of federal grants until the California State Legislature and Governor Brown moved to enact AB1222 into law. Among the federal grants certified by the DOL are funds for bus and rail preventive maintenance, bus acquisition and funds for an underground pedestrian passage between the Metro Orange Line and Red Line. With DOL’s certification of these grants, the Federal Transit Administration may now move to formally award these funds to our agency. I would like to extend my appreciation to the Metro Board, Governor Brown, members of the Los Angeles County Congressional and State Legislative Delegations, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation and Labor, for working cooperatively with our agency to favorably resolve the PEPRA/13C issue.

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